Local aid crucial for Texas groups signing people up for healthcare

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AUSTIN — Starting Nov. 1, Texans will have six weeks to sign up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act marketplace. 

“People can come in today, tomorrow and Wednesday and get a jump start on filling out their paperwork, so we’re encouraging everybody to do that,” Walter Moreau, executive director of Foundation Communities, said. 

Foundation Communities, located in Central Texas, says it enrolled over 30,000 people in the last five open-enrollment periods. Moreau said the organization’s goal is to enroll another 5,000 people. 

“Financial help is available,” Moureau said. “It may be way more affordable to get health insurance coverage than you realize.” 

Foundation Communities relies solely on local partners and volunteers to serve the community. Director of Financial Programs Kori Hattemer said the group had 155 volunteers last year and expects the same for this year. 

“We’re always trying to grow to meet the need and help as many people as possible,” she said. 
Other non-profits that previously received federal navigator funding are turning to other means to still reach their target populations for this open enrollment period. 

The Austin chapter of the Light and Salt Association was a previous recipient of federal navigator funding, which is supposed to help with enrollment assistance and outreach. According to an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation, there was an 85 percent decrease in federal navigator funding from 2016 to 2018 in Texas. 

In 2016, Texas received about $9.2 million. That dropped to around $6 million in 2017 and the state received only $1.3 million for 2018. Only two groups received this funding in all of Texas. 

Without federal cooperative agreement funding, entities and individuals aren’t allowed to serve as federally certified navigators. But through a local grant from the St. David’s Foundation, the Austin chapter of the Light and Salt Association has its certified application counselors helping members of the Asian-American community figure out what their available options are on the marketplace. 

Li Ting Lin, who works with the Light and Salt Association, says it’s important to keep their operations going. 

“In our Asian communities, there are many cultural and language barriers,” she said. “The U.S. healthcare system is very different from Asia.” 

Lin says there’s also often a technology barrier and some of their client’s struggle when trying to navigate the marketplace website. 

“It’s very important for our non-profit – we’re here to help them and to help them better understand the U.S. – not only the healthcare system but also cultural things,” Lin said. 

Lee Dedear, another certified application counselor with the non-profit, called the grant from the St. David’s Foundation a “savior.” 

“They are really keeping us afloat and enabling Light and Salt to have more people in this office to help people,” Dedear said. 

The Light and Salt Association is also posting ads reminding people about the open enrollment period and where they can access more information in Chinese and Vietnamese via social media and inside businesses.  

The open enrollment period ends Dec. 15.

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